By: Jeff Roberson
Two moments might define this baseball regular season for Ole Miss. But one word does.
The moments? The Sunday game at State and the finale in College Station. There were others but those are a noteworthy two.
Had the Rebels lost to the Bulldogs that day, they'd have gotten swept and fallen to 2-7 in the SEC. Tough to climb out of that hole mentally and physically. But they won.
And Saturday at A&M, had the Rebels lost to the Aggies they would have gotten swept and been below the break of the top teams in the league and those looking up at them. A 17-13 record in SEC play is quite an accomplishment. This year, you would have just been one of the boys. That's how good the conference is, especially at the top.
I've never seen the league so top heavy and bottom heavy, so predictable as far as wins and losses as the past five or six weeks have played out. So often since early April the best team won and the lesser team lost. That's what's supposed to happen in sports, but this year in SEC baseball there just didn't seem to be a lot of upsets.
Sure, Ole Miss is the seventh seed of 14. But it's arguably the best seven seed to ever appear in the SEC Tournament. There's work to be done to get where they want to go, but at 40-16 overall and 18-12 in the conference, it's been quite a run to this point.
SEC champ MSU bounced back from an 8-22 league mark and 24 overall wins last season to take the title this year and likely breeze into a national seed spot. The rebound from last season's 30-win NCAA Tournament Ole Miss team to a 40-win regular season and a (current) top 6 RPI is quite the achievement as well.
There is talent. There is depth. There is good coaching. There are any number of things that a team must have to win 40 games in the toughest league of them all, and this year that included a 6-1 mark against superb non-league teams like Louisville, Florida International, and Coastal Carolina. Those were key scheduled opponents and wound up victories for the Rebels.
But it's the toughness of this UM that steps up to me. Some of that credit goes to Ben Fleming, the Rebels' third-year strength and conditioning coach. The program has been at another level since he arrived before the CWS season in 2014.
Is any closer anywhere tougher than Wyatt Short? Show me if there is.
Is there a tougher catcher in the league than Henri Lartigue? He knew what it takes to play that position at Ole Miss. He watched Stuart Turner play and learned from Will Allen and Austin Knight.
Is there a better centerfielder, a tougher guy out there and at the plate, than J.B. Woodman? What about the toughness Will Stokes has shown after a so-so first season last year? The toughness we've seen from Tate Blackman after another so-so first season, and the resiliency we've seen from Errol Robinson this year and in year's past.
It's a team thing. I saw somebody on twitter call out Cam Dishon this weekend. I saw Conner Cloyd, who hasn't played a ton in this his second season, call out the tweeter. Team. Having their teammates' backs. I see that a lot.
Some hate twitter and it can be painful. But it can also give some insight. Wyatt Short said this Saturday morning via that social media platform: "To my team, I love all you guys! Let's go get em today! #RebsBSB"
When he got those final two outs with Aggies on every base, who proved tougher than Wyatt Short? Nobody.
Colby Bortles defines toughness. I believe he is one of those guys who is ready for a good postseason. I remember those like him before. No better example than outfielder Michael Guerrero. Remember him?
In his short stay with Ole Miss, there was no doubt about his talent. You could see it. It was 2008 and the day before the Rebels left to go to Hoover. Guerrero was having a good season, not great. He had four home runs to that point that year. Power was one of his things, and the Rebels needed more from him to move on.
"You're gonna hit five home runs in Hoover," I told him at practice before they left town. We all chuckled, including Guerrero. Maybe my number of round trippers would be off a bit, but my point was this was going to be his time. The postseason was going to be his time.
Remember his walkoff homer against John Cohen's Kentucky team late night and a dramatic 8-7 UM win in Hoover? That was one of them.
The press box got a kick out of me counting his five home runs that weekend, raising another finger with each one as he got to those five and the Rebels reached the SEC final against LSU. Michael Guerrero was an All-SEC Tournament team pick.
It might be Bortles. It might be Will Golsan. It might be somebody else. Or more than one player. But postseason always allows for that opportunity - see Holt Perdzock and the 2014 NCAA Tournament - to step up and lift the team.
So 40 wins and 18 SEC wins. What a regular season it was. And the No. 7 seed. What a conference it is.
Ole Miss took two of three from Georgia earlier this month in Athens. The winner stays around for two more games, at least. The loser heads home.
Postseason baseball is here. And a tough Ole Miss team heads to Hoover to get it started. We'll see next month where it all winds up.